Is there really a difference between B2B versus any other kind of conversion optimization? To be sure, we all deal with clicks, context and testing. But the environment for B2B marketing often has a different set of dynamics than most consumer-oriented ecommerce:
- Usually, the goal is to generate leads rather than online transactions.
- The products and services tend to be more complex and expensive.
- There’s often more (self-perceived) heterogeneity among customers.
- The buying cycle is relatively long, and usually has multiple stages.
- The buying decisions are often reached by a group of people.
- There are different roles and agendas among buyers in the group.
- The stakes on the outcome for the buyers can be very high.
I call this tangled ball of organizational psychology the “Gordian knot” of B2B marketing—partly because it’s so complicated to sort out and partly in homage to Gord Hotchkiss, who authored The BuyerSphere Project. Gord’s book is the result of extensive research on how B2B buyers really behave, and it’s eye-opening. While marketers and buyers often pretend that B2B purchases are logical, rational and done in the best interests of the company, the truth is that these decisions are human, emotional and—most importantly—extremely risk adverse.
See, if I buy a new TV and then realize a couple of months later that I made a bad choice, the consequences are limited. I’m disappointed, and my wife might make a few wise remarks, but we move on. However, if I’m a key decision-maker for a new enterprise HR system—and then several months and hundreds of thousands of dollars later it becomes clear that we made a disastrous decision—I can suffer real damage to my career.
With those circumstances in mind, the aim of B2B conversion optimization should be to connect with people in the buying process and minimize their risk. Here are three tactics that address those objectives, particularly in the context of paid search.
Create Specific Ads And Specific Landing Pages
Admittedly, the advice of matching specific ads with specific landing pages is nearly universal—I wrote about this in my post describing the READY framework, which emphasizes such matching as the foundation of relevance.
However, in B2B, where respondents are more risk aware, they’re even less comfortable making leaps of assumption. If your landing page doesn’t specifically call out the issue they were searching for—or fulfill a promise you dangled in the ad copy—they’re more likely to abandon you and go in search of a stronger “information scent” elsewhere.
For example, if a CIO searches for “data storage SOX compliance,” he or she expects to find something that talks specifically about Sarbanes-Oxley compliance with data retention:
That level of matching is the first step of building confidence in B2B landing pages. It gives respondents exactly what they were looking for, without any interpretation or extrapolation to see the connection.
Use Consultative Landing Pages
A must-read book for B2B marketers is Digital Body Language by Steven Woods. One of the key points Steven makes is how all the information on the web has disrupted the role of the traditional consultative salesperson in B2B relationships.
It used to be that when a prospect had questions about a product or service, they would call and talk to salespeople, who were able to tailor the discussions to the needs and questions of each buyer. But now, prospects are much more likely to try to find the answers on their own on the web. This shifts more of the burden of being “consultative” to web marketing—and opens up a great opportunity for conversion content marketing.
One approach is to provide multi-step landing pages that engage respondents through one to three clicks of choices—a short, interactive dialogue—that helps them hone in on what’s most relevant to them. The more complex your product or service is, the more heterogeneity you have within your audience, the more valuable these micro-consultations can be.
For instance, this example by Athena Health (produced by BGC Boston) engages respondents who are searching for medical billing solutions by walking through a few choices. Are you a physician or office staff? Is your practice small or large? The experience quickly guides them to the most relevant information, a win-win for the marketer and the visitor:
The more genuinely consultative your landing pages are, the more trust and authority you’ll establish with prospects from the start. And that goes a long way towards reducing risk.
Send Strong Brand Signals
Finally, as trivial as it may seem in the non-visual world of search marketing, it is extremely important that the design of your landing pages signals professionalism and credibility. In the blink of an eye, prospects can instantly gauge the quality of a page. If your pages look cheap or hastily thrown together, visitors will infer those properties apply to your products and services. In the risk sensitive world of B2B, that can trigger a terrible brand impression.
Compelling landing page design is not formulaic, so there is no short set of rules I can offer as a checklist for good design. However, the one recommendation I can make: find a way to bring design talent into your conversion optimization team. It doesn’t have to be a full-time position, and it may be sufficient through a contractor—a little bit of good design advice can go a long way—but don’t try to fake it.
In particular, if you already have a strong brand, you want to leverage it in your landing pages—brand standards such as colors and design aesthetics, but also the perceived “attitude” of your brand. If the design of a landing page meshes with someone’s existing impression of your brand, it’s a positive reinforcement.
The inverse is true too: if there are incongruities, even subtle ones, they can subconsciously (or consciously) make people uneasy. Don’t let such oversights sabotage an otherwise solid campaign. Give them no reason to doubt.
Once you frame your B2B conversion optimization around the people who are visiting you—addressing their subjective and emotional concerns as well as their objective and rational needs—you’re light years ahead of the competition. Project confidence, professionalism, expertise and rock-solid reliability.
The more you can reduce the risk of your audience—by what you do, what you say and how you appear—the better your performance will be.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.